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Trusting Tech: Integrating Technology While Managing Patient Relationships
By Jim Higgins
It’s the peak of the fall 2017 convention/conference season. Healthcare professionals have spread out across the country, educating themselves and checking out all kinds of health IT vendors and solutions. One thing that always comes up, regardless of specialty, is, “How can I integrate technology in a way that doesn’t make life harder for my staff, threaten compliance, or damage the personal relationships we have developed with our patients?”
Integrating technology with regular practice procedures is often met with concern and skepticism from healthcare practices. Fears about compliance issues and the challenges of implementing technology keep many practices from making the shift. Experts agree that the healthcare field is notoriously slow when it comes to the integration of new technology.
Yet patients are increasingly demanding the integration of technology into their healthcare experiences. According to a recent study by Accenture, 65 percent of health citizens globally believe that the benefits of being able to access medical information electronically outweigh the risk of privacy invasion. Of course, no one wants their privacy breached. But, citing security concerns probably won’t appease patients who don’t have much patience when it comes to getting what they want.
With such a large percentage of patients both desiring and trusting a shift to technological integration in healthcare services, practices now must adapt. Luckily, there are options today to ensure that everyone can get what they need. Practices don’t have to give up being compliant to accommodate changing patient expectations.
Embracing Changing Patient Expectations
Patient relationships are becoming increasingly complex. A generation ago, practices simply interacted with their patients in the office and then were done. Today’s patient relationships rely on more than just face-to-face communication — they also have a significant technological component. Just as patients communicate with friends and family via technology, they want to reach out to their healthcare offices through technology as well.
In addition to this shift to technology, patients are also developing more of a retail-oriented mindset. For example, according to the Patient-Provider Relationship study, one in three patients say they will switch practices in the next couple of years. A concerning (and growing) percentage of these patients are switching for service issues. Never has it been more imperative to meet the shifting demands of your patients—including technology integration.
The most prevalent reasons practices are afraid to integrate technology into their patient relationships can be summarized as follows:
- Fear of change.
- Concerns about technology and compliance.
- Inability to build personal relationships through a screen.
Let’s discuss each of these challenges in detail and explore the solutions to these very legitimate concerns.
Challenge #1: Fear of Change
Practices often become so comfortable with “how things have always been done” that they can actually stand in their own way. This is particularly true when it comes to emerging technologies.
Solution: Ensure that each member of the staff is mentally prepared for the improvements that are coming. Using the word “improvement” is a better way to look at it than just “change;” it’s change in a positive direction. Although it is inevitable that some of your staff will be more open to new ideas than others, the commitment to improve can help motivate people. The most effective way to make any new technology a success is to involve everyone throughout the implementation process. When people are involved, it becomes “their” change and they are motivated to make the implementation a success.
Challenge #2: Technology and Compliance
HIPAA, TCPA, Can-SPAM, MACRA, OSHA. The list alone is daunting. Along with the fear of change, the fear of not being compliant with the myriad of required rules and regulations is one of the biggest deterrents to adopting new technologies.
Solution: Ask the right questions when investigating new technology. It is possible to be compliant when integrating technology into your patient relationships. Modern technology allows you to communicate with patients via email and text message while remaining compliant. You simply must address these issues when looking at the change.
Challenge #3: Building Personal Relationships Through Technology
Personal relationships almost feel like the antithesis of technology. We tend to think of technology as cold and unfeeling, and it is true — technology can be a deterrent to warm relationships. But if patients prefer to communicate via high-tech means, it is important to learn how to build relationships virtually. People are comfortable having conversations via text. It’s all about the interactions.
Solution: Select the most popular technologies and then personalize wherever possible. Texting is the most used form of communication in the world. Seventy-six percent of patients prefer texting to phone calls. Texting your patients just makes sense, but simply texting is not enough. Personalize the types of messages, the tone of the messages, and their frequency to better develop your relationships. Personalization is not only critical to success, but very possible with today’s technologies.
It’s time to stop holding on to old ways of doing things and move into the future. Technology holds the key to improving patient relationships. Trust tech to do the job it was designed to do; you may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Jim Higgins is the CEO and founder of Solutionreach in Lehi, UT.